It’s that time when media outlets publish their predictions for the year to come, and it’s looking like a grim year on many fronts. Oil prices will keep falling and bring turmoil to many places—one of them being Russia, which could respond by becoming even more belligerent. The euro will slide—and that’s only if the rise of leftist parties like Greece’s Syriza don’t lead to its breakup altogether. China’s economy is slowing again. Cybercrime (see Sony and a slew of other big corporations) has become seriously scary. So has the melting of the ice sheets. And the Middle East… well, we don’t need to tell you.
When journalists make tech predictions, on the other hand, they tend to be sunny: all the cool gadgets we’ll have, all the wonderful mysteries science will uncover. Seemingly nobody writing about how 2015 will be the year of wearables is discussing what will happen if hackers, having got bored with Sony, take control of your Apple Watch or dump the data from everyone’s personal medical monitor into a huge public file on the internet.
Why this optimism? After all, we’re not naïve; we know that the same social media that helped kick off the Arab Spring also gave governments the means of mass surveillance, and we’re starting to understand that the technology that gives you cheap services at your beck and call relies on a huge precarious labor force. Not only is technology unevenly distributed, to slightly misquote William Gibson; inevitably, its benefits are too. Perhaps it’s just that in a world with such seemingly intractable problems, we want to leave room—briefly—for a little hope that sheer ingenuity can fix them.—Gideon Lichfield
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
What we got wrong in 2014 and what we expect in 2015. Speaking of predictions… Steve LeVine’s geopolitical forecasts for 2014 were thrown for a loop. He explains why, and (gingerly) outlines the likely winners and losers from low oil prices in 2015.
We can never trust bankers again. Those endless banking scandals aren’t just the work of a few (or even a lot of) bad apples, argues Jason Karaian. There’s growing evidence that the structure and culture of the banking system are fundamentally broken, and simple, stringent rules are needed to contain the damage it can do.
Facebook, here is your year in review! In the spirit of the much-mocked end-of-year reviews that Facebook gives its users, Leo Mirani sums up the highlights of an action-packed year for Facebook and its globe-trotting, t-shirt wearing, Chinese-speaking CEO, Mark Zuckerberg.
This is the new Israeli-Palestinian conflict. With its moves this week in the UN and the International Criminal Court, the Palestinian leadership effectively declared that the peace process, long-since discredited, is truly dead, says Gideon Lichfield. What starts now is a new phase: Less hopeful, more angry, more painful—but more honest.
All Quartz’s charts in 2014. All 3,800-odd of them. If that feels too taxing, just scroll back until you spot the point at which we stopped using hot pink.
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
America’s census blind spot. The US Census Bureau is going to stop asking people about their marital status in its annual American Community Survey. What sounds like a minor bureaucratic shift, writes Justin Wolfers for the Upshot, will actually create a huge gap in the picture we have of the American family.
Diary of an Amazon Christmas elf. Hamilton Nolan at Gawker publishes the stream-of-consciousness account of a temporary worker brought in to help fulfil the retail giant’s Christmas rush. It’s pretty much what you’d expect, complete with “mandatory overtime” and the 15-minute breaks that really aren’t.
How Ebola fought back. “There was a moment in the spring [of 2014] when the longest and deadliest Ebola outbreak in history might have been stopped.” A team from the New York Times spent two months of investigation to produce a gripping narrative on how the epidemic was almost nipped in the bud, and why it came back with a vengeance.
What artificial intelligence achieved in 2014. There were big debates this year about whether AI is a boon or a threat to humanity—and that’s because there were big advances in what it can do. Tom Simonite sums them up for MIT Technology Review.
Google’s philosopher. As it debates with regulators and internet users over what should be private, Google has turned to an Oxford don to help it formulate a basic philosophy about information use. As Robert Herritt explains in Pacific Standard, that’s leading to a new conception of what it means to be a person—or anything else.
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